by Chef David Rocheleau
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that climate change is among the greatest health risks of the 21st Century. Rising temperatures and more extreme weather events cost lives directly, increase the transmission and spread of infectious diseases, and undermine the environmental determinants of health, including clean air and water, and sufficient food. WHO is clear in its position that addressing climate change is an essential step to alleviating the health impacts to at-risk populations.
We don’t need to look at developing countries to see these impacts directly. Even in Rhode Island, extreme hot and cold temperatures, “superstorms,” and floods, can all be attributed to the changing global climate, and affect Rhode Island residents—including the people we serve at Crossroads every day.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10% of the total American energy budget, uses 50% of land, and swallows 80% of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40% of food in the U.S. today goes uneaten—equal to 20 pounds per person every month!
This not only means that America is throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of municipal solid waste. Decomposition of uneaten food accounts for 23% of all methane emissions in the United States; the greenhouse gas is at least 25 times more powerful in global warming as carbon dioxide. Nutrition is also lost in the mix—food saved by reducing losses by just 15% could feed more than 25 million Americans every year, at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables.
Fortunately, with some awareness comes the ability to address these issues. I have been leading the Meal Program here at Crossroads for about four years, and I’ve actively tried to create a setting where people can learn about food waste and food recovery. I’ve collaborated extensively with the local food community, including We Share Hope, the Food Recovery Network at Brown University, The Compost Plant, and Farm Fresh RI. Through these programs and others, I’ve been able to improve our clients’ and residents’ access to healthy, fresh, local foods which otherwise would have gone into the landfill.
An average household can learn some easy steps that professional kitchens, like Crossroads’ Meal Program, use all the time. By making a few simple changes, ordinary citizens can greatly reduce the amount of food thrown in the trash. Here are some tips that you can implement in your own home to make a difference:
- Buy only what you need. By simply making a list with weekly meals in mind, you can save money, time, and eat healthier food. If you buy no more than what you expect to use, you will be more likely to use it all.
- Keep fruit and vegetables fresh; we waste these most often, by overbuying and not using them in time.
- Store fruits and vegetables for maximum freshness; they’ll taste better and last longer, helping you to eat more of them.
- Prep now, eat later: prepare perishable foods soon after shopping. It will be easier to whip up meals later in the week, saving time, effort, and money.
- Eat what you buy: be mindful of old ingredients and leftovers you need to use up. You’ll waste less and may even find a new favorite dish.
- More great tips (and video) at Save The Food.
Addressing the problem of food waste will take major coordination by farmers, sellers, transportation, and consumers. Prevention is the key, and where the most benefit will be realized for the least amount of effort. And the benefits are many: for the planet, for our health, and for the well-being of our communities.